Anti-Deregulation Campaign Forces Cuts to Arts Majors

by on 6 August, 2015

resized UWA Student Rebecca Lawrence explains how the recent cuts to Arts Majors are a product of the very system that left-wing students fought to protect:

Despite a number of student protests, yesterday’s UWA Academic Council meeting confirmed the decision of the UWA Arts Faculty to discontinue its Gender Studies, European Studies and Medieval & Modern Studies Majors, effective as of 2016. The reasoning given by the Arts Faculty was simple: the majors were cut to save money.

The Faculty argued that the Majors were not popular enough to warrant continuing – that small class sizes meant that many of the core units were running at a loss to the University. This was because, even though these classes would frequently only attract enrolments of less than 10 students, the Faculty would still be required to cover the fixed costs of running a unit, including room allocation, administrative staff, lecturer’s salary, physical and online resources, and tutoring fees.

In a logical system, UWA would be able to solve this problem by adjusting the student fees for these courses to reflect the higher per-student running costs. In a logical system, students who really wanted an education in a specific field of the Arts would be able to pay their world-class University to deliver this education. In a logical system, UWA would be able to charge students what their top-100 degrees are worth, and students who valued this education would be allowed to pay the University to deliver it.

UWA, however, does not operate within a logical higher education system. Instead, UWA exists within a system of strict price regulation which places an upper limit on the amount that it can charge in student fees. In this case, the limit on what UWA is able to charge students to complete a Bachelor of Arts Major is far below the cost of actually running the Gender Studies, European Studies and Medieval & Modern Studies Majors. Because of this, these majors will cease to exist.

The Federal Government’s Higher Education Deregulation Package, which failed in the Senate earlier this year, sought to address this problem. In a deregulated fee system, Universities would gain autonomy to set fees at a level which reflects their operating costs. The market structure would also allow Universities to charge what their degree is actually worth in a 21stcentury job market. For instance, many universities offer an undergraduate engineering degree, but the actual product available at each institution is vastly different. A degree which involves more contact hours, or smaller class sizes, or more practical workplace experience, or greater opportunities for specialisation, may be worth more in the highly competitive engineering job market, but under a regulated system of university fees, a high-quality product is priced the same as every other undergraduate engineering degree on offer. A system like this, where price does not reflect quality, will ultimately lead to quality being compromised. This has already happened, with cost-cutting measures such as increases in class sizes, reductions in contact hours and narrowing of options units taking place already.

Undeniably, regulation of university fees leads to mediocre degrees being offered and expensive degree options being cut. A University like UWA simply cannot produce research, and graduates, to the standard of a world top 100 institution, maintain a degree range equal to that of an American liberal arts college combined with a Singaporean Technology Institute, and continue to charge fees equal to the least competitive Australian higher education provider.

These cuts to three of UWA’s Arts Majors are only a minor indicator of the fact that Australia’s regulated university sector produces a lower quality, less diverse range of degrees. A one-size-fits-all price on University education will produce a one-size-fits-all education sector. A deregulated higher education sector will allow for diversification and specialisation, and incentivise excellence.

I look forward to seeing all those who protested against the cuts to UWA’s degrees now turn their attention to lobbying crossbench Senators to pass higher education deregulation.

Rebecca is a third year Economics/Asian Studies student at the University of Western Australia, and the Vice-President of the WA Young Liberal Movement. This semester, Rebecca is undertaking an Australian Government New Colombo Plan Scholarship to study in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.


3 thoughts on “Anti-Deregulation Campaign Forces Cuts to Arts Majors

  1. “In a logical system…”

    I think you mean “In an unregulated free-market system…”.

    “adjusting the student fees for these courses to reflect the higher per-student running costs”

    I wonder if there’d still be 10 of you if they did? If another 5 of you drop out because of those fees, then what? Just divide the costs by 5? You might end up the only one standing.

    Why don’t the ten of you get together, and donate $100K each to the uni, subject to the course continuing? Unis will do just about anything if you cough up the cash.

  2. An excellent article! Ms Lawrence cuts to the heart of the matter where she explains how Australian universities are structured to each provide the same product – an impossibly wide range of degrees and research options at bargain-basement prices – such that none of them can truly excel. The lack of diversity is killing the Australian tertiary education sector – it’s a shame that Labor and the broad Left don’t want to “celebrate diversity” in education, rather replicate the same tired, expensive product across all institutions. This of course plays into the hands of the public servant university employees and their union leaders who don’t want excellence, competition or transparency!

  3. So those before who acquired an education for free such as Joe Hockey are they to be considered obsolete considering their degrees were never regulated? It’s purely a money grab and if you want more funding for your uni approach investors interested in your particular profession. Deregulation simply means less educated people something none of us needs. But good luck to you regardless.

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